Several students from the area attended the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Youth Commission Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in October to gain first-hand experience with Youth Leadership on a national scale. This initiative was brought forward by Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and supported by the Business Committee (BC) because of its youth leadership agenda which provided the teens with the opportunity to bring back newly gained skills to their respective communities.
Seven students from Oneida, Seymour, West De Pere, Southwest, and Pulaski High Schools attended the five-day conference, Laura Laitinen-Warren, Policy Advisor for Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill’s office, said. “This was a great opportunity to connect local youths from across the school districts,” Laitinen-Warren said. “Each year the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and NCAI presents awards at this conference to some students who submitted essays talking about what they’ve done to demonstrate leadership in their communities, and what they hope to accomplish in the future. Their essays were reviewed and the winners were announced during the youth luncheon.”
Students had the chance to attend different breakout sessions during the event which included topics ranging from Hemp Economy to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), among numerous others. Oneida Nation High School senior Kaylee Schuyler won the 2019 NCAI Youth Leadership Award, and Seymour High School senior Adrianna Metoxen brought home the 2019 NIGA Youth Leadership Award.
“This was a great Native leadership conference with youth leaders from all over the country coming together, working on their skills, and networking,” Schuyler said. “I’ve been a part of this for two years now and I really enjoy it. I’ve met so many people and we still communicate. My passion is language revitalization, and I’m a part of our Oneida language immersion program which includes helping my teachers, Rosa Francour and Jessica House, assist with children trying to learn it. I’ve also been a member of Music Of our Culture (MOC) for ten years which also includes dancing, language, and singing social songs.
“My future goal is to help expand our language immersion program with our kids,” Schuyler said. “It’s much easier for children to learn the language at this age, so our hope is to keep growing the program and attract more youth and teachers to it to assist. At the conference I learned that our youth do have a voice and I know that my voice counts. I got to demonstrate my personal opinions and what I’m passionate about. I sang a friendship song to all my new friends thanking everybody for what they’ve taught me, so this really helped improve my leadership and speaking skills.”
The Youth Commission Conference experience helped galvanize Schuyler’s love for the Oneida language and her pursuit of more community youth involvement. “I want others to get involved as much as possible,” Schuyler said. “We literally don’t have many fluent speakers and it never hurts to learn. It’s our identity and it represents us as a sovereign nation and without it we wouldn’t be recognized as such. I would also encourage singing social songs and going to Longhouse because our community really welcomes you. Don’t be scared because your voice really matters. I really thank Rosa Francour for teaching me the language since I was in middle school, the BC and Chairman Hill, Laura and Danelle for taking us, and my family for all their support. It’s so important to (positively influence) others.”
Metoxen, this year’s recipient of the NIGA Youth Leadership Award, was bitten by the leadership bug as a result of her involvement with UW-Madison’s Information Technology Academy (ITA), a pre-college initiative designed to help bolster the number of diverse students at the university. Students in the program develop skills with hands-on training, academic support, mentoring, leadership development, community service and internships.
Her time with ITA helped provide her with a sense of what the NCAI Youth Leadership Conference would entail. “I gained a lot of good experience and resources from my involvement with ITA,” Metoxen said. “As a result of that our trip to New Mexico really helped me make a lot of good connections, and it really makes me want to grow more. My mother taught me that education is key, and I’ve seen the outcomes from that, so that is one of my passions because I’ve seen people in my community not get their diploma or GED. I can help make change by getting my diploma and furthering education and leading by example. Since we got back from the conference we’ve already been meeting and discussing how we can implement what we learned and what can we make of it.”
Metoxen’s passion for education will serve her well with her ambitious goal of getting into medical school. With a scholarship offer already on the table to attend UW-Madison, Metoxen is also carefully considering UW-Milwaukee as well as Madison Area Technical College (MATC). “I would really like to go to UW-Madison but it’s a really big school,” Metoxen said. “I grew up in Oneida and go to school at Seymour, so I’m used to class sizes of about 20 students. So that’s why MATC is an option for me as well.”
Metoxen is proud of those who have influenced her in life and she wants to pay that forward. “I’ve had a lot of positive influences in my life which were mainly my mother and grandmother,” Metoxen said. “They really taught me how to grow out of my shell. Nowadays with my mom if I fall off the tracks, she’s there to push me back on with love. Seeing her juggle parenting and school has also really motivated me so I want the youth out there to keep striving forward. You’ll experience obstacles in your life, but they shouldn’t be something that holds you down but instead helps lift you up. A great way to get involved in your community is to simply look around and ask. If you see anybody that needs help, then help them. There really isn’t anything that should stop you.”
“The youth that were selected to attend this conference were quite amazing,” Danelle Wilson, Administrative Assistant to Chairman Hill and trip chaperone, said. “Being there and watching our future leaders’ confidence grow was very cool for me. They were on a very tight schedule much like our BC members who were there. Our BC was very much on the go, so it was nice to see the youth get an idea and gain an appreciation for what they do as well when they’re travelling. Adrianna Metoxen was one of those I saw blossom on this trip. Even though she’s shy, she spoke about our Nation and asked what she could do as a future leader. To see her grow like that was awesome and Kaylee Schuyler as well. They would all be great ambassadors for our youth.”
“Our students represented Oneida well,” Laitinen-Warren said. “They were always there on time and ready to put in their work. They put in some long days and even took it upon themselves to help the hotel staff get chairs set up for elders one evening when there was a seating shortage. It was great seeing them step up like that and recognize that need. I just couldn’t help but feel good about our current leadership as well as our future leadership. Every single one of them were impressive, responsible, and respectful youth.
“Overall, even though we were all tired from the traveling, this trip was invigorating and energizing because I just felt good about the youth that were there,” Laitinen-Warren said. “Oftentimes youth get a bad rap, but I was so impressed with their kindness and their passion for leadership in their own communities and Indian Country overall. This was a very positive experience and I feel good about our upcoming leadership.”